Last week I planted rosemary in my herb garden. I didn’t plant it as much for the herb itself, although I do like the flavor it adds to a favorite homebaked bread recipe I sometimes make. I planted it because, in the words of Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 4, “There’s rosemary, that’s for rememberance.”
I will always remember our dear friend Rosemary who recently passed away. I want to become more like her with each turning of the calendar page. She was the kind of woman I want to be and a true role model exhibiting generostity, kindness, laughter and love. Perhaps most importantly is the way our friendship taught me to trust God and see Him and serve Him in ways I could not have imagined.
My path intersected with Rosemary’s over twenty years ago. My son, Dusty, and her grandson, Nathan, were college roomates at Oklahoma Baptist University. OBU was just a few miles from our home, but our son wanted to live on campus and experience dorm life, so after discussion, budgeting, and bargaining, we agreed to the arrangement. It had been his plan for years to pursue a music education at this university and he had long planned to share a dorm room with a high school buddy. At the last minute, the plans fell through because the buddy decided to room with someone else. I can still remember how crestfallen he looked giving me that news. I can still remember my response was, “There’s a reason for this. I am going to pray about it!” and I did. I knelt, almost immediately, beside my antique bench and asked God for His direction in all of this and soon I felt a complete peace. In a few days, we arranged a dinner meeting with the new “potluck” roommate and his parents.
Nathan and his parents were from Ft. Worth, Texas, a good four hour drive to OBU. His parents explained to us that they were leaving him on campus without a vehicle so that he would not be tempted to come home often and check on his mother whose health was declining. They wanted him to adjust to college life without watching the steady toll MS was taking on her body. His dad slipped my husband a business card with his number in case of emergency or concern. As we pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, I felt I could see God’s purpose in this new plan: We were supposed to pray for Nathan’s mother and watch out after Nathan. Looking back, I can imagine God laughing at my assumption and looking back, I now feel embarrassed at my ignorance. I did not have any clue about God’s providence in all of this, nor did I see what He was really doing!
Nathan and Dusty became great friends- lifelong friends- more like brothers than roommates. Nathan quickly became, and remains today, part of our extended family. Their love for music was only the beginning of their common interests, and their quirky sense of humor has been the source of much laughter through the years.
As their Senior year in college approached, it was time to plan recital programs. They decided to share the recital. At the reception afterward, it was our pleasure to meet Nathan’s grandparents, Bob and Rosemary.
After graduation, Nathan and Dusty went to separate grad schools. They continued pursuing their education and remained in touch, seeing each other as often as they could. A few weeks after they had both received Master’s Degrees, Dusty was in Nathan’s wedding in Ft. Wort, but in a few short weeks after the wedding, the unthinkable happened.
We received a phone call that no parent wants to receive. Our son, who left our home that morning for a short road trip to Texas, had been in a catastropic accident and was being medi-flighted to the nearest trauma hospital which happened to be in Ft. Worth.
The next few days are still a nightmare in my mind. There was a whirl of medical staff, ICU placement, strange words like coma, trauma, and a bleak prognosis. There were more machines than we had ever seen and unsettling reports giving us little, and sometimes, no hope. These were days of agony for our family as we prayed and waited, miles from home and miles from familar comfort. We refused to leave the waiting room, but instead took turns sleeping in shifts and anxiously waiting for any good news, any signs of life apart from the machines that barely kept him alive.
Four days into this nightmare,my husband and I were taking our scheduled timed visit into Dusty’s ICU room when we were interrupted by a nurse telling my husband, Mike, there was someone there to see him. Mike reluctantly left. I looked out the plate glass wall that served to separate one ICU patient from the next and saw him talking to an older woman who looked familar, but I couldn’t really place in my memory.
A few minutes later I learned the conversation went like this: “I live just a few blocks from the hospital. You are not going to pay a motel fee. You are going to stay with me, and I will be doing your laundry. I’ve raised two boys, so dirty underwear does not bother me!” Mike listened politely then responded, “Ma’m that is very kind, but who are you?” “Oh dear!” she said with a chuckle. “I have rehearsed this speech, but forgotten the most important part. I am Rosemary, Nathan’s grandmother”.
Eventually we were able to leave Dusty’s side, and eventually we took Rosemary up on her generous offer. By that season in her life, she was a widow and she was tired of the quiet house. Her home was conveniently close to the hospital where we would spend sixty-five days in all. Some of that time, Dusty’s condition was too tenuous for us to even be a few blocks away, but on the days we could be in her home on Creston Avenue, it was Heaven in the midst of Hell.
Rosemary was our sanity. She offered us a home away from home. She would wait up most nights for a report on how the day had gone. On good days we laughed and thanked God together. On bad days, we sat quietly and cried together. Every day ended with her shaking her head from side to side and saying, “It’s ice cream time somewhere” followed by a trip to her kitchen where three bowls were retrieved from the cabinet and a big, flat metal scoop dished up vanilla Blue Bell. There was a stack of clean laundry on our bed twice a week. There was cereal ready in the morning and a packed lunch as we left.
I’ve never met a more intelligent or articulate person. I loved her stories almost as much as I loved her, and there were stories, fabulous, fascinating stories of her childhood in Louisianna, her love for LSU football, and – my favorite of all- how she met the love of her life, Bob. She recounted early memories of the black woman that did the cooking and cleaning for her family and how happy she was in that late summer of 2005, to be able to watch the first black presidental candidate as he campaigned. She told us stories of favorite students and of favorite plays she had directed. We talked of God and His mercy. We prayed. We told jokes. We laughed. We fell in love with a woman God gave us in our darkest hour.
When we were finally able to leave Ft. Worth and go back home to Oklahoma it was a bittersweet day. We were so happy to be back home for the first time in over two months, yet we cried for many miles after leaving Rosemary’s home. We would miss her, but we would be back.
We visitied Rosemary yearly for the next thirteen years. We also kept in touch with phone calls and cards until about two years ago when old age, cruel as it is, crept in and she had trouble remembering us. Last month when I received the news from Nathan that her days had come to an end, my heart broke. I suppose it was partly because I had lost my own mother a few days earlier, but it was also because I was losing my friend- my precious, generous, funny, story-weaving friend.
I have learned so much from my sweet friend, Rosemary. I learned how priceless the true gift of hospitality can be. I learned that a bowl of ice cream can be a spiritual gift. I learned that God’s gifts of love and joy can be found in the darkest hours when we least expect them. I learned that a good laugh is truly a medicine that ministers to a broken heart. I learned that strangers can become family.
My friendship with this great woman has caused me to set a new course for my life by recognizing ministry has many different facets. So little of God’s work actually occurs inside the walls of His house. It was Mother Teresa who said, “Not all of us can do great things, be we can do small things with great love.” It was Rosemary that lived out those words for me in the form of friendship, clean laundry, ice cream, and precious memories.
I will always remember Rosemary.